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Branding Wars: Sports Marketing Pros Give Their Picks for Best NY6 School Brands

Each of the NY6 schools have done great work over the years building their respective brands — but which program does it better?

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Photo credit: NY6

The six biggest college football bowl games of the year, which fall around the start of the New Year, are known as the New Year’s Six — or NY6 — for short. In recent years, these games have also become home to the College Football Playoff Semifinals on top of being high-profile matchups between several of the nation’s top programs.

The winners will ultimately be decided on December 29 and January 1 in what will hopefully be entertaining games. In the buildup, football experts will give their picks for who they believe will turn in a stronger day on the field. Each of these programs have done great work over the years building their respective brands when it comes to how fans, recruits, and media members perceive the program — but which program does it better?

Using the matchups from this year’s games, branding experts from around the sports world discussed who they think wins in a battle of the brands. 

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta): Michigan vs. Florida

Ashley DeWalt – Founder, Managing Principal of LVRG Sports: “I’m going with Michigan here based on the quality of content across their social channels leading up to the bowl game. They are really doing a great job of highlighting their program accolades right now.”

David Meltzer – CEO and Co-Founder, Sports 1 Marketing: “Between the two, I’m definitely choosing Michigan, especially considering Florida’s head-coach carousel in recent years. While it pains me to admit as an Ohio State fan, Harbaugh leveraged the “M” brand to new heights with the way he carries himself as a coach and how he recruits. While Michigan may not have achieved some of the successes of his Stanford teams, Harbaugh is helping to expand the attention on Michigan football among sports fans far and wide. And with the retirement of Urban Meyer, there is even more opportunity for Harbaugh to seize.”

Christopher Stoney – Creative Director, Alliance of American Football: “I’m going to give it to the Gators. I think what Kelly Streeter has done at Florida just absolutely captures what it’s like to be at the swamp. Their creative team does a beautiful job with the black and white, along with using orange and blue highlights — a color scheme that just absolutely jumps off to me — and they’ve done a really good job incorporating these triangles, which are kind of meant to emulate the look of the gator teeth and the scales. I love what they’re doing.”

Geoffrey Blosat – Sports Operations Analyst, Zoomph: “Michigan over Florida. Bigger coach, bigger story in the news week after week, and bigger presence online.”

Capital One Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens, Fla.): Alabama vs. Oklahoma

DeWalt: “Between these two, it’s a toss-up from a branding perspective. Both programs create engaging content across their respective social channels. However, leading up to the Orange Bowl, I’m going to pick the Sooners because they have a lot of momentum from all the success their program is achieving, whether it’s the coach, individual player or team. No doubt, the Sooners’ creative team is really pushing great content across their digital and social channels while ensuring the brand messaging is consistent.”

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Alabama. Traditionally speaking, it’s easy to make the argument that the University of Oklahoma is one of the biggest and most storied brands in college sports history and has had back-to-back Heisman winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray to support that. Nick Saban has completely changed the perception of Alabama football in recent years, however, as a football factory chock-full of top recruits and as a perennial national-title contender during his tenure.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Oklahoma. When I look through their content, I see plenty of scroll-stopping things that I just absolutely love. ‘Boomer Sooner’ is strong. Alabama is great too, but Oklahoma is going to edge them out just barely in this instance.”

Blosat: “Alabama over Oklahoma. A decade of dominance as a team, combined with how #RollTide is just embedded into every football fan’s mind, beats the school with the last two Heisman winners.”

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (Arlington, Tex.): Clemson vs. Notre Dame

DeWalt: “My pick is Clemson. The creative team at Clemson is one of the best, if not the best, in college football. The content they are putting out is awesome. However, I do like the fact that Notre Dame is showing what they’re doing in the community for kids with their Christmas shopping event through their social channels, despite preparing for a huge bowl game.”

Meltzer: “Notre Dame. While Clemson has been extremely successful in recent years thanks to the leadership of Dabo Swinney, Notre Dame possesses, arguably, one of the strongest brands in college sports. Thriving as an independent school, Notre Dame has a historic legacy of success, combined with the attention of Catholics worldwide. That makes their brand unique in college football, as well as the leadership of Brian Kelly.”

Stoney: “I’m going to say Notre Dame. I think Clemson is probably the top of the list for almost everybody, but the reason I’m picking Notre Dame is that the school is probably one of the harder brands to design for and to build a brand around because they’re such a traditional school with so many traditional values. To build a brand around an old-school tradition is really hard to do, and I think that they’ve absolutely done that. When I see anything from Notre Dame, it feels very ‘Notre Dame.'”

Blosat: “Notre Dame over Clemson. As powerful as Clemson is, Notre Dame has the legacy factor. While Clemson has arguably a stronger digital brand and social presence, as a brand, ND comes out on top.”

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.): UCF vs. LSU

DeWalt: “I’m going with LSU on this one based upon the sheer amount of players they are able to highlight right now in the NFL. Their program is doing a great job of highlighting this leading up the bowl game.”

Meltzer: “While UCF is another fast-rising brand, it is hard to argue against the SEC powerhouse that is LSU. LSU’s fanbase is rabid (and blows UCF attendance numbers out of the water), their roster is full of future NFL talent, and the brand dominates the state of Louisiana, not facing the competition that UCF faces from other top programs such as Florida and Florida State.”

Stoney: “I am going to have to give it to the Knights. Their history is very recent, so there’s nothing to really draw on in terms of building a traditional branding look. And so the Knights have instead embraced that with a new look and a new culture, a new Nike contract — and they’ve just taken all that and run with it. Gold and black are also some tough colors to work with and they’ve crafted them into a beautiful, creative, eye-catching look.”

Blosat: “LSU over UCF. Two words: Coach O. While UCF has made a great case over the last two years, until they get more nationally televised games, they’ll be a step behind the big schools regardless of the wins and quality tweets.”

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (Pasadena, Calif.): Ohio State vs. Washington

DeWalt: “Ohio State is my pick on this. They have one of the most consistent brands and messaging in college football, and have been creating compelling content to engage their fans for years now.”

Meltzer: “Ohio State definitely has a bigger brand; they call it ‘The Ohio State’ for a reason. Although there has been some scandals associated with the school in recent years, Ohio State always ranks among the top schools in attendance and is perennially a Big Ten championship contender. Combining that with the talent OSU sends to the NFL and a massive alumni base, Ohio State is one of the most consistently strong brands in college football.”

Stoney: “Sam Silverman at Ohio State is just at the top of his game. There’s nobody doing it better than Ohio State right now in terms of having an old-school tradition. And I think Ohio State is probably leading the pack in their charge. It’s unbelievable how creative and fun they’ve been with their typograhy and their numbers.”

Blosat: “Ohio State over Washington. Unless it’s USC, any Pac-12 school will struggle in a brand-vs.-brand matchup, especially against a Big Ten powerhouse and perennial title contender with a polarizing coach.”

Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La.): Georgia vs. Texas

DeWalt: “Both of the programs are very consistent in their brand strategy and messaging, but I have to give the nod to the UT because they are mixing in a bit of everything right now, from content about their graduates to players getting invites to the Senior Bowl and current NFL players. They are taking advantage of the branding opportunities right now.”

READ MORE: Inside the Meteoric Rise of College Football Bowl Games

Meltzer: “Texas. Historically, Texas has had a bigger brand than the Georgia Bulldogs, and part of that is due to the larger alumni base of the school, as well as the football-obsessed population in Texas. I think that Georgia definitely is one of the fastest-rising football brands, with coach Kirby Smart closely modeling successes of Alabama football, and could overtake Texas if the program continues to excel in the SEC.”

Stoney: “Matt Lange at Texas is one of the strongest designers in college football, hands down. He started incorporating a lot more white space and this sandy grit-texture style into it. It really feels like Texas, which is one of the most iconic brands in all of sports. Matt and his whole team on the design/digital side have just done a phenomenal job.”

Blosat: “Texas over Georgia. Probably the closest matchup in terms of brand vs. brand. They’re always back, year after year, and will never not be in the news. Landing the Player of the Year (Jake Smith) as a recruit doesn’t hurt either.”

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

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REP Worldwide Changes The Licensing Conversation For Female Athletes

The NFL Players Inc. extension has executed licensing agreements with more than 25 companies across categories in support of women’s pro sports.

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REP Worldwide launched in 2017 as a unique take on a brand management and representation business. An extension of NFL Players Inc. (the marketing and licensing arm of the NFL Players Association), REP Worldwide aims to have players supporting players through sustainable group licensing and player-marketing programs. In particular, REP Worldwide has focused on bridging the gap in underrepresented women’s sports licensing.

With interest in professional women’s sports among fans and companies alike continuing to grow, so has the desire for player-driven merchandise. To date, REP Worldwide has executed licensing agreements with more than 25 companies across categories that promote players of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, the WNBA and USA Rugby including licensed t-shirts, socks, scarves, novelties, customized jerseys, promotional products and digital collectibles.

With the Women’s National Basketball Players Association and the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association on board as founding equity partners, REP Worldwide has been hard at work the last year or so establishing agreements with companies like Breaking T, Fanatics, Fansided, Panini America, CultureFly and more. Fans can now purchase a variety of gear from these companies featuring the licensed likenesses of some of their favorite players.

“With a robust marketing and licensing program finally in place, we had to be really intentional about pursuing these agreements,” says Terri Jackson, executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, who opted out of their collective bargaining agreement at the end of 2018. “So we had an initial shortlist of companies that we wanted to work with, and REP got it all done very quickly.

“The timing of this could not be better. It really made sense for us and the leadership saw it as a great opportunity.”

The U.S. Women’s National Team will defend their world championship at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France this summer. In the 2015 World Cup, the Americans defeated Japan in the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history to win their third championship. Despite this, U.S. Soccer failed to see value in properly licensing and merchandising products related to the team and players, only featuring with a limited selection of items.

For this reason, Becca Roux, executive director of the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association, is thankful that the players’ association gained those rights in 2017 as part of a new collective bargaining agreement. This allows them to market the team to different partners where U.S. Soccer does not have an exclusive agreement.

“This coming to fruition will be validating for the players to see the fruits of their labor,” Roux remarks. “U.S. Soccer didn’t see much value in these rights, so finding a partner like the NFLPA to create a company like REP Worldwide to act as our agency was great for the players and for the game. The NFLPA did believe in the rights and it’s been great to see the market’s response.”

As 2019 moves forward and fans purchase more gear to rep their favorite players, current athletes will reap the deserved rewards. However, the meaning of this coming together is slightly deeper. The collaboration between athletes from several different sports represents a larger collective unity that exists between professional athletes that will likely have a lasting impact on sports licensing as a whole.

“As fellow athletes, we see the WNBPA and the USWNTPA as our colleagues and we want them to succeed,” states Steve Scebelo, President of REP Worldwide and VP of Licensing & Business Development with NFL Players Inc. “The idea behind REP Worldwide was helping other athletes stand up for what they deserve. There’s definitely a bond that exists between all these athletes and what we’re doing here represents that.”

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Marketing on Wheels: SLAM Magazine Makes a Splash at NBA All-Star Weekend

By covering a Sprinter with iconic magazine covers and driving around Charlotte, SLAM made sure that the brand could not be missed at NBA All-Star Weekend.

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Photo credit: SLAM Magazine

Like many basketball brands, the SLAM Magazine team pulled up to NBA All-Star Weekend intent on leaving an imprint on the city of Charlotte. For SLAM, that meant taking advantage of nearly 25 years of iconic magazine covers, using them to wrap an entire Sprinter van, and cruising through the streets of Charlotte over the course of the weekend.

“We were trying to figure out how we could make our mark on All-Star Weekend, and we came up with the SLAM Sprinter, which was a pretty simple idea,” said Adam Figman, editor-in-chief of SLAM. “The idea was kind of twofold, because it benefited us in a few ways. It served as a moving billboard for SLAM as a brand, so people saw it and took it in. They would see it on the street, and they could engage with it… It also served for content, so we met up with a bunch of NBA players and rappers and did interviews at the Sprinter.”

With covers adorning every inch of the Sprinter, SLAM was able to pay homage to its rich history while shining a light on its modern-day product.

“We really just decided to go with covers all over because that was the most eye-catching, and it leaned into the history of SLAM,” Figman said. “It also showcased a lot of the guys taking part in the weekend.”

READ MORE: Nike and Jordan Partner With Snapchat for Custom AR Lens

“If you looked, we had Larry Johnson, who was on the cover of the first-ever SLAM magazine in 1994, which was special, considering he was on the Charlotte Hornets,” he added. “We also had players all the way from Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and then a lot of the Sprinter’s space was devoted to the newer guys, like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, plus Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.”

One cover, in particular, was a special area of emphasis for SLAM, according to Figman.

“The newest cover, not coincidentally, featured Kemba Walker, who’s the best player on the Hornets now,” he said. “It was cool. We brought the idea to his people a couple weeks before, and we made sure to have that cover really big and noticeable, and they loved it.”

The team posted up at various All-Star events, selling gear and offering photo opportunities.

“We were selling exclusive merchandise out of the back of it when we got the chance to park or post up somewhere, in heavily crowded areas,” Figman explained. “We made an All-Star-exclusive SLAM box logo hoodie, and had our usual selection of SLAM cover tees, plus a brand-new one that featured Larry Johnson. It will be in store this week, but it debuted on the Sprinter, so our first batch went to local people in Charlotte who happened to walk by.”

Finding just the right spots to take the Sprinter was important for maximizing SLAM’s visibility.

“We were at the NBA’s official events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” Figman said. “We were at the Nike and Jordan Brand space at a few points, as well. If we knew where we’d be, we’d announce it on our Instagram story and Twitter and give people a heads up. Secondly, there was also a fluid element to the whole thing. We knew about the heavily populated areas, like the Epicentre in uptown Charlotte, so we spent time on the outskirts of the Epicentre as close as we could get.”

“There was a lot of traffic, for sure, but that’s a good thing,” he added. “If this unique, eye-catching Sprinter is sitting in the middle of standstill traffic and it’s unable to move, all of the passersby are looking at it, so it is literally marketing itself.”

As a media brand that is known for being beloved and trusted by players, SLAM was able to lean into those relationships during All-Star Weekend. The team used the Sprinter to meet up with NBA players like Sterling Brown, Jeremy Lamb, Kyle Kuzma and Joe Harris, and create content for social media.

“The best part is that it’s literally mobile, so we could ask players, ‘Where do you want to meet up? How can we make this happen? Tell us where to go,’ and then we could pull up to events to meet them,” Figman said.

One of the most well-known players that made an appearance at the Sprinter was Walker.

“He was a pleasure to work with in making [the cover], and he hit us up after it went live, saying how it was amazing and that his family and friends loved it,” Figman said. “He wanted to show love back… To see the Sprinter working on that stage, where our magazine cover star thinks it’s cool and goes out of his way to be a part of it, was great.”

The Sprinter wasn’t SLAM’s only activation during All-Star Weekend, either.

“We had an event with Puma, a Baby Dunk contest, for 15-and-under kids on lower hoops,” Figman said. “It was a ton of fun and got a lot of circulation on social. We had the Sprinter parked outside, and everyone was taking photos.”

READ MORE: Bojangles’ Channels Its Inner LeBron James for All-Star Weekend

Utilizing social media was a key aspect of the SLAM’s All-Star activations, according to Figman. The team capitalized on a unique combination of traditional and modern branding, between the Sprinter’s vintage vibes and social media’s widespread reach.

“I think it’s, in concept, an old-school idea — wrapping a vehicle is very ’90s hip-hop, rap, like how in the ’90s, if you were leaving a concert venue, you’d see eight of these wrapped vans outside,” Figman said. “So, it has an unquestionable old-school feel to it, but the difference is now with social as a prevailing way people see things and consume content. If you do something cool in person, something like a Sprinter wrapped in eye-catching SLAM covers, people take photos and videos, and post on them on social, on their Instagram story or their feed on Twitter or on Snapchat — everywhere, basically. You get your digital, social piece out of it if you do a good enough job, so there’s an old-school feel with a new-school effect.”

Between the striking appearance of the SLAM Sprinter and its circulation on social media, SLAM’s All-Star activations brought invaluable visibility to the brand throughout the entire the weekend.

“It was a fun activation, and we got our brand out there,” Figman said. “Obviously, we were able to bring in revenue using merchandise sales, but there was also the content play, the brand play and the marketing play… I had never seen anything like this.”

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How Professional Bull Riders Successfully Introduces Its Culture to New Audiences

Professional Bull Riders spreads its events across the country — and world — as it asks potential fans to realize their inner cowboy.

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Photo Credit: PBR

For Professional Bull Riders, the organization would label the last 25 years as an extended period of steady growth.

In the same breath, it would label the last four years, in particular, as nothing short of explosive. 

Despite its roots in the Western lifestyle, PBR CEO Sean Gleason said the sport is making major inroads in America’s suburban and urban markets. PBR recently finished up its a big weekend at Madison Square Garden in New York City and will make its first Los Angeles appearance at the Staples Center Feb. 22-23.

“I wouldn’t say it’s growing the Western lifestyle as much as taking an exciting sport with Western roots and introducing it to a new fan base,” he said. “Bull riding is an extra exciting sport, eight seconds of adrenaline-packed action 40 to 50 times a night, wrapped in with world-class production, and it’s an extremely entertaining product.

“People who give us a trial are surprised by what they experience. We struggle with the reality that a lot of people in suburban and urban areas in America have lost touch with dirt sports and what a cowboy is.”

Gleason said a struggle is breaking down those barriers, but it’s beginning to happen.

PBR experienced an attendance increase of 12 percent from 2015 to 2018, following the acquisition of the company by entertainment and fashion agency, Endeavor, formerly WME|IMG. Now a wholly-owned subsidiary, Gleason said PBR’s solid growth trajectory of the past two decades received a major boost from the firm’s expertise.

READ MORE: Game Changer MVP’s ‘Filter Fan Cam’ Ramps Up PBR’s In-Arena Atmosphere

“The PBR fits perfectly into Endeavor,” Endeavor Properties President Sam Zussman said. “It is a very special league in a very special sport with incredibly passionate fans who want to experience all aspects of the sport and the Western lifestyle. Endeavor’s breadth of capabilities — from events, to content creation and publishing, media, licensing, talent representation and more — makes it a perfect environment to continue to strengthen the PBR.”

According to an ESPN Sports Poll, PBR has 82.5 million U.S. fans, with an established presence on CBS Sports — with an average of one million viewers per telecast. 2018 set more than 20 local attendance records, including 46,000 people at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium in Feb. 2018 for the Iron Cowboy.

Bull riding is generally an individual sport, but PBR recently finished its third PBR Global Cup — a five-nation team competition and the richest PBR purse outside the PBR finals.

The Global Cup is based on the success of PBR’s growth outside of the U.S., as it continues to tap into the rich traditions of bull riding in Brazil, Australia, Mexico and Canada with tours in each territory. Gleason said rodeos have faded from the mainstream with cowboy lore, but the PBR product has the necessary elements to attract audiences.

“Their rich history and tradition is allowing us to do the same thing there,” he said. “It’s allowing us to introduce the cowboy hat and Western athlete to a new fanbase with shared values.”

Brazil’s PBR tour will include six cities this year and up to 10 next year.

Beyond the bull-riding events in arenas and stadiums across the U.S., PBR is now a multimedia company as well. PBR launched its own OTT network, RidePass, last February to “bring Western sports” to the digital media landscape. RidePass has aired more than 500 hours of programming since launch, including live bull riding, news, and highlights. PBR has also utilized Endeavor’s IMG Original Content to help produce several original shows, like the Brazilian bull rider Netflix docuseries “Fearless.” On Facebook Watch, the five-episode “Belles of the Bull” follows rider girlfriends and wives, and “I Got Wrecked” is a free streaming series on go90, showing some of the sport’s most insane injuries.

READ MORE: Whistle Signals an Official Call to Action Within the Sports Landscape

“There’s a huge base of underserved fans out there,” Gleason said. “The digital platform is the right time, the right place and the perfect platform to bring it to the consumers. RidePass is having great success. We’re extremely excited and will continue to invest in the content and brands.”

Gleason is excited about the first quarter of 2019, which put PBR in several of the country’s largest markets including New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Now, they’ll be investing heavily in the “Be Cowboy” campaign.

“It’s to invite more cowboys into the tent,” Gleason said. “We believe cowboy is how you live, not what you look like. It’s not about a boot and a hat. It’s the values you live by.”

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